The Do’s and Don’ts of Being A Good Christian

Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.  – 1st John 2:4 NIV

 This morning I read an article that left me heartbroken for the body of Christ. The piece was about a well-known Christian “influencer” who has made his mark on the world as a wordsmith. His career has consisted of crafting pithy little sayings to encourage other Christians. Well— it turns out that at least some of those sayings were not really his, they were “borrowed” from other speakers, authors and historical figures. As someone who spends a good deal of my time crafting not-so-pithy compositions to encourage Christians I do not see anything wrong with wordsmithing, influencing or encouraging.

 However.

 There is something very wrong with stealing other people’s ideas and intellectual property and presenting them as our own.

 The whole messy mess got me thinking about a lot of things. Like grey areas, right and wrong and the hazards of “influencing” when influencing for Jesus morphs into self-promotion. It occurred to me that there is very little agreement about what a Christian should “look like” in our day and age.

 The standard definition of a Christian is someone who has dedicated their life to following the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. Figuring out what the Christian life should look like in our world is not as cut-and-dried as it once was. Even concepts as elementary as love can be confusing if we have the wrong definition. What Christianity should look like is something we need to figure out fast because if we don’t we will ultimately fail at the most basic assignment Christians have been tasked with (Matthew 28:19-20).  Following are five do’s and two don’ts that will empower us to live the Christian life successfully in our messy mess of a world.

Christians Do-

 Judge sometimes-

 The notion that Christians should never judge is a misinterpretation of Scripture and a lie straight out of the pit of hell. It is true Christians should never judge whether or not another person is worthy of forgiveness or heaven, that is always God’s call to make (Matthew 7:2, Luke 6:37). That being said, Christians are called to make judgments concerning right and wrong (Luke 12:57, John 7:24, Acts 4:18-20, 1st Corinthians 5:12). Anytime we stop judging the actions of ourselves and others we quickly devolve to an ugly place where everyone does “what is right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). When that happens, we forfeit our power to influence others in a healthy way (Matthew 5:13).

Love People-

 Okay, so, this is a bit of a given. Even demons and the foulest of unbelievers understand that love is one of the defining marks of a Christ-follower (John 13:34-35). However, some Christians do not get that Christian love is multifaceted and complex. It protects, encourages and believes the best in others but it also cautions, corrects and sometimes even rebukes (1st Corinthians 4:14-20, 1st Thessalonians 5:14).  Jesus loved the Pharisees enough to die for them but that didn’t stop Him from warning them of the consequences they would encounter if they continued to live in opposition to the will of God (Luke 11:11-53).  If we really want to love like Jesus loved we have to embrace every aspect of Christian love—not just the parts and pieces that make people like us. 

Do good-

 Christians are commanded constantly in Scripture to “do good” (Galatians 6:9, 2nd Thessalonians 3: 13, Titus 1:6, Titus 2:7, 1st Peter 2:12). The specifics of “doing good” are left somewhat up to the discretion of individual Christians. In the New Testament “doing good” always involved helping people, providing for the less fortunate and avoiding sin. Doing good is not about being “the next big thing” or “a big deal” in the Church. It’s about doing what God called you to do to the best of your ability right where He put you. 

Tell the truth-

 This does not just mean Christians don’t lie.  It also means we live our lives openly and we fight the human tendency to compartmentalize and hide our sin rather than confess and repent (Matthew 3:8, James 5:16).   

 Obey Jesus-

  Obedience is a mark of an authentic Christian (John 14:23-24). When we obey Jesus we love people, hate sin, tell the truth and honor God. If we would all just do our best to obey Jesus most problems we have in the body of Christ would be a nonissue.

Christians don’t-

 Mess with the word of God-

 Contrary to popular opinion not every biblical issue is always black and white, there are some grey areas. It’s reasonable for Christians to debate (among other things) how often to take communion, the role of women in the church (Judges 4-5, Romans 16:1), whether or not Christians should use alcohol and exactly how political a church ought to be.  However, most issues hotly debated today (homosexuality, premarital sex, gender issues, adultery) were settled long ago and should be treated that way.  

 Hate people-

 This one is easier in theory than in practice. (Matthew 10:22).  This is especially true when we are hated, openly mocked and persecuted just for loving Jesus.  Nonetheless, our calling is clear: Jesus wants us to love those who hate us and to do good to people who hate us (Luke 6:27-28). It is simply impossible for anyone to obey this command in their own power. It can only be accomplished through the emboldening and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit (2nd Corinthians 12:8-10)

 Christians who wish to make a difference in this world never shy away from the calling we all have to repent and be constantly transformed into the image of Jesus even if that means being a little less popular and successful by worldly standards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Hospitality Kills Community-

We cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well~ 1stThessalonians 2:8 NIV

There is a theory circulating in the academic corners of Christianity that every four to six hundred years God shakes things up and the result is a seismic shift in the way Christians do church. The first shift occurred at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. The second transpired when the Eastern and Western Churches parted ways in A.D. 1054. The third occurred on October 31st 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in the sleepy little hamlet of Wittenberg Germany.

 It is being theorized by the wise and learned that the Church is in the middle of one of those seismic shifts right now. Recent political and social changes could have a dramatic impact on the way church is done a hundred years from now.

I am by no means a scholar. However, I do have a keen interest in Church history and a passion for weird theories. It occurred to me that the aforementioned shifts have resulted in a net loss and a net gain of something enormously significant to the church. At the council of Nicaea, the Church gained respectability but lost its simplicity and doctrinal purity. When Luther posted his theses, the Church gained a much-needed anchor (biblical truth) but lost its unity, cohesiveness and eventually its authority. 

As the modern church shifts due to technological, social and political changes Christians have no control over, we are in danger of losing important things we do have control over.  One of those things is community. The sense of community the early church experienced was the beacon that drew both gentiles and Jews into a life-changing relationship with Jesus. It was community that fueled the evangelistic fire of the early Church (Acts 2:42-47)

The church is losing community because Christians have adopted a non-biblical view of the Christian concept of hospitality. This is doubtless due to the influence of wildly popular cable channels like Food Network and HGTV. These networks have drilled into us that hospitality is simply preparing tasty food and decorating our homes in an appealing manner. Hospitality is the glue that binds community together. Following are misunderstandings Christians have about hospitality that kill community:

Hospitality and entertaining are the same thing-

Hospitality and entertaining guests look similar because one piece of hospitality is entertaining guests in our homes (Acts 16:15). That said, it is possible to have guests in our home on a regular basis and not actually practice biblical hospitality. Hospitality in the Christian sense of the word means caring deeply for the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of other people in an intimate setting (Acts 18:26, Romans 12:13, 3rd John 1:8). An intimate setting can be a home, a coffee shop, a church foyer, a street corner or a public park because intimacy is about the emotional and spiritual environment we generate with our presence, not our physical location.

Hospitality is optional-

 Hospitality is a command rather than a suggestion (Hebrews 13:2, 1st Peter 4:9, 1st John 2:3). When we practice hospitality, we not only show people we love them but we also demonstrate that God loves them too (Galatians 5:22-23, John 13:34). There is nothing optional about loving and caring about people if you’re a Christian.  

Hospitality has nothing to do with Evangelism- 

Hospitality is intrinsically connected to evangelism. Caring for the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of others is the fertile ground where the seeds of faith take root and grow (Colossians 4:4-5, Galatians 5:14).

I don’t have time for hospitality- 

This is by far the most common reason given for not practicing hospitality and on the surface, it looks and feels legitimate in our culture. People are busy, in most households the husband and the wife both work outside the home. Kids are frequently involved in extracurricular activities and sports teams. These activities eat up much if not all of our spare time.  Most are overwhelmed at the prospect of managing and maintaining close family relationships. Adding yet another relationship to the mix feels like an unreasonable burden.  All of these objections are perfectly defensible if the definition of hospitality is entertaining. However, if the definition of hospitality is caring for the needs of others in an intimate setting (and it is). Then all of a sudden, the reasons we give for not being hospitable sound more like poorly constructed excuses than rock-solid reasons. We are commanded in Scripture to make time to care about people, to listen to their problems and find out what’s going on in their lives. Saying we do not have time to be hospitable we are essentially saying we don’t have time to care.  I openly question the salvation experience of a “Christian” who says that they do not have time to care about the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of others (Matthew 22:39, John 13:34, 1st Thessalonians 2:8, Matthew 25:31-37). If we don’t have time to care, we need to cut something else out so we do have time to care. 

 Hospitality is not about getting it’s about giving (1st Peter 4:9). Christians should always be ready and willing to provide a listening ear, a warm meal, a soft heart and an open door.  When we don’t have time for those things we’ve lost the essence of being Christian.  

Four Truths to Cling to Anytime Life is Hard-

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me~ 2nd Corinthians 12:9

  I won’t lie. I hate doing hard things.

Truth-be-told I am a spoiled first world-er and like most normal people I prefer the easy option in virtually every situation. Like most people right now I also just happen to be deep in the weeds of some really tough stuff. There are moments when I fear that stuff could be the end of me.  I would really love to dump everything that’s even remotely hard and go relax on a beach somewhere.  

Sigh.

 I get that dumping the hard stuff of life is not a viable option. I also get that I am not alone, all of us go through something tough at some point. So, I came up with a short list of reasons to never give up on doing good (Galatians 6:9).   

Hardness is inescapable in a fallen world- 

Hardness in life is never an accident of fate, nor is it always a result of sinful choices. Hardness in this world came about as a result of sin (Genesis 3:14-19). Until sin is dealt with once and for all (Revelation 19-21) hard things will simply be an integral part of life on Earth. The whole messy mess is complicated by the reality that Christians have an enemy (1st Peter 5:8, Ephesians 6:11) who has a vested in interest in making life harder for God’s people (more on this in point 4). 

Doing hard things prepares us for harder things- 

I am currently reading through the book of Exodus. In chapter five God sends Moses to Pharaoh for the first time.  Moses tells Pharaoh that God wants Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go so they can worship their God. Pharaoh did not react the way Moses hoped he would. He laughed at Moses and cruelly increased the workload of the Hebrew people. The very people Moses was trying to help turned around and laid the blame for the whole messy muddle squarely at the feet of Moses. By the end of the chapter Moses was clearly bummed-out and was what the heck-ing God. He says:  

“Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” Exodus 5:22-23

Because I have the advantage of knowing how the story ends, I was struck by the thought that if Moses had realized at that moment that he was actually doing the easiest leadership task he was ever going to have to do he probably would have laid down on the floor and cried like a tired child. Moses didn’t know it yet, but the mission in front of him was going to be hard in ways he could not even begin to imagine. Before the whole thing was over Moses would an intimate understanding of how to deal with both difficult people, intense disappointment and intensely disappointed difficult people.  Mercifully, God did not tell Moses exactly how tough things would eventually get. Instead God just used the hard thing (dealing with Pharaoh) to prepare Moses for the harder thing (leading the people through the wilderness). God does the same thing with us. 

God has a special place in His heart for people who do hard things- 

The Christians in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) did the hardest things Christians are ever called to do. They suffered and some even died for their belief in Jesus. God had nothing but positive things to say about them and the sacrifices they willingly made. In the text God tells the Christians in Smyrna that He understands their pain and difficulty and then praises them for standing strong in the face of intense adversity. He gently and lovingly encouraged them to continue to stand strong and be courageous as they waited for the relief that would come in time.  Throughout the Scriptures God exhibits a heart of compassion for those experiencing hard things. God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). 

The hardest things in life have the biggest potential to impact eternity in some way-

 Sharing our faith, living honorably, speaking hard truths in a gentle way, raising decent kids, having a healthy marriage, going the distance in ministry and laying down our lives for others are hard things. They suck-up our energy, eat away at our free time, cost us money and try our patience. Sometimes those things feel like they will break us.  However, hard things also grow our faith, give us wisdom, make us better people and have the potential to change someone else’s eternity. Changing eternity for others is a very good thing. 

It really is the best thing.    

When Help Actually Hurts-

Do to others as you would have them do to you~ Luke 6:31 NIV

The city of Albuquerque has a problem. 

The city has become littered with hypodermic needles. Not the clean, shiny needles you get from the needle factory or a doctor’s office but the kind of needles that have been used to shoot heroin. This is an issue because used hypodermic needles are dirty. Used needles oftentimes harbor unpleasant and sometimes even incurable bloodborne diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, syphilis and Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). 

Yuck. 

Like many American cities, Albuquerque boasts a “clean needle” exchange program. Needle exchange programs allow intravenous drug users to get a free clean needle anytime they want to inject drugs. Until recently if a drug user wanted to acquire a clean needle in Albuquerque they had to turn in a dirty needle. This policy did nothing to reduce drug use but it did incentivize drug users to dispose of their dirty needles safely.  Thanks to a recent policy change, trading in dirty needles is no longer a thing in Albuquerque. Now if a drug user wants a clean needle all they have to do is ask for one and they get it. No questions asked.   

 The policy change has resulted in dirty needles being left wherever the drug users happened to be when they used their drugs. Ballfields and parks just happen to be popular places for drug users to inject heroin. Despite the valiant efforts of parents and coaches to keep local ballfields needle-free a little girl playing softball was stuck with a dirty needle as she was sliding into home base. Doctors say that it will be at least three months before they know for absolute certain whether or not she is infected with anything. 

Sigh. 

A long list of random thoughts ran through my mind as I was reading this story. The mama-bear in me felt a crushing compassion for the little girl and her family (Romans 12:15). I simply cannot imagine the torment they are experiencing and will continue to experience for three agonizing months. My heart literally aches for them. The analytic, business-minded part of me wondered about liability issues for the city. That side of me suspects the city of Albuquerque may be embroiled in a nasty and potentially very costly lawsuit soon. The vacation organizer in me who is always thinking about new places to visit made a mental note not to vacay anywhere near Albuquerque, New Mexico anytime soon. The fussy, pedantic worrier in me (she’s a bit prone to hysteria) was seriously freaked out by the idea that someone could get stuck with a dirty needle at a ballfield or park. She was reminded once again that walking around barefoot is never a good idea.  

Then the God-follower in me stepped-up and asked a question that no one seems to be asking:

When exactly did our society give-up on actually helping people? 

For the record, I am not a dolt, nor am I the public-health equivalent of a flat-earther. I get the shared benefits of needle exchange programs. I understand that diseases passed by dirty needles are also sexually transmitted. I get that people who are high are not likely to stop and think about practicing “safe sex”. Nor, are they likely to remember or act on the warnings they heard in the abstinence-based sex education class they attended in high school. I understand that needle-exchange programs save lives and prevent diseases. I am one-hundred-percent on board with saving lives and preventing diseases, especially diseases like HIV, Hepatitis C and MRSA. 

That said. 

I can’t help but feel that needle exchange programs (as well-intended and necessary as they may be) are the ultimate in giving-up on people and writing them off as not worth saving or helping. When we offer drug users a clean needle to shoot a substance that will eventually kill them off without also offering some sort of help or hope we are not treating drug users the way we would want to be treated.  This breaks my heart. We have become so callous as a society that we have decided there is an entire segment of the population not worth saving or helping (Romans 15:1, 1stThessalonians 5:14). 

Seriously.  

There’s a lot of talk these days about the very real problem of homelessness. Experts on the subject universally agree that homelessness is nearly always a byproduct of drug use. If a drug problem can be dealt with in a person’s life it becomes much easier to work on the problem of homelessness. Conversely, as long as a person is using drugs their emotional growth halts and no other issues in their life can be dealt with effectively. No has ever actually been helped by mollycoddling the problem of addiction. 

Voters ought to be demanding local governments do more than simply hand out clean needles to drug users. At the very least local municipalities should require drug users to turn in a dirty needle in order to get a clean one This rudimentary requirement serves the purpose of reminding drug users that they are human and as members of the human family they have an obligation to do their part (no matter how small) to be helpful to the rest of society.    

As Christians the growing problem of addiction ought to break our hearts the way it surely breaks God’s. We must never forget that we are called to be the voice of Jesus in our culture and advocates for those without a voice.  It is our holy obligation to fight for those the world has written off as not worth saving. As Christians we should demand a return of anti-drug education in public schools and we must challenge the relaxing of drug laws and the movement towards complete legalization. Most importantly, we need to remember we have something to offer drug users the government can never give. Freedom from addiction and hope for a better future through a transformational relationship with Jesus Christ (Luke 19:10, Acts 16:31). 

Five Truths Every Christian Must Grasp to be Whole, Happy and Spiritually Productive-

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things~ Philippians 4:8 NIV

 I have been “cursed” with a temperament that tends to overthink just about everything. I also veer towards thinking a lot about a lot of different issues. There is literally no end to the number of random thoughts and ideas that flit through my mind in a given day. Regrettably, I do not have a mind like a steel trap. As a result, most of those thoughts and ideas depart as quickly as they appear.

All that being said, occasionally someone will say something that will cause a random thought to take root and I will spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about a subject and that subject makes its way into a blog post. 

Such was the case this past week. 

 We have teenager in our home who states at least six times a day that she “just didn’t think” about something. The things the girl does not think about are things most people think about all the time without even realizing they are thinking about them. Her curiously vexing acknowledgement has gotten me thinking a great deal about the subject of thinking. More specifically, I have been thinking about how what we think about (or don’t think about) shapes who we become and what we do. In the NASB version of the Bible Proverbs 23:7 says that what a man thinks about he eventually becomes and Jesus further expresses the same idea in Mark 7:21 when He states that evil thoughts always precede evil behavior. 

 Very few (if any) Christians are inclined toward the kind of thinking that leads to openly evil behavior. Rather, most Christians tend towards the kind of wrong thinking that leads to misguided or incorrect behavior. The problem with misguided or incorrect behavior committed by Christians is that it almost always leads to a kind of passive evil that hurts people on an eternal level because it is done in the name of religion. The bottom line on this issue is that what Christians choose to think about matters. I came up with five random things I believe we should all think about on a regular basis because if we don’t we suffer and so does everyone else.  

Beginning with:   

People really can change-

The gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ is about far more than simply sidestepping an eternity spent in hell (although that message is definitely in there). The really good news of the gospel is that sinful, dirty, mucked-up human beings can be entirely transformed into new people with new desires and new attitudes when they put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ (Romans 12:2, 2ndCorinthians 3:18, 2ndCorinthians 5:17). When we forget this categorically startling truth it diminishes the churches power to transform the culture because we tend to sideline those Christians we deem less desirable due to their lack of education, past mistakes or upbringing. It also keeps individuals from personally seeking the radical transformation necessary for every Christian to reach their full potential in Jesus. 

God loves people we don’t love just as much as He loves us-

God loves all of us in spite of our idiocy, faults, weaknesses and inability to pull it together and get the job done. That means that God wants the ridiculous, bothersome, entirely not self-aware people in our lives to learn from their mistakes, grow in their relationships and become better people. He might even be using us to orchestrate those things in their lives. Keep this truth at the forefront of your mind next time another Christian starts to bug you.  

 Feelings are mostly wrong-

Recently, a real live human (a Christian) told me with a straight face that if they “felt that something was true their feelings made it true”. I will not lie, it took me a minute to recover my bearings. I am categorically unaccustomed to hearing that kind of bold-faced insanity being spoken aloud. Once I recovered, I quickly pointed out that two people can have opposing feelings about the exact same issue or situation.  When that kind of conflict develops it has to be an agreed upon set of facts that becomes the deciding factor in what is true. If any other standard becomes the norm we will devolve into moral and intellectual chaos.

Politics and religion are not equal-

I have some strong political views, most of them are solidly conservative. I try to base my views on biblical truth rather than my feelings or what our Western culture believes about a particular issue. However, even with those qualifiers my political views are not on the same level as my religious beliefs. We should be very careful about writing off other people based entirely on their political opinions. Rather, we should attempt to persuade those who think differently than we do with reason, grace and biblical truth. 

Mercy is superior to judgment-

 I am a truth person. This reality is demonstrated in the fact that every spiritual gifts’ test I have ever taken I consistently scored lowest on mercy. Every. Single. Time. Even the times I tried to cheat and game the test I still scored dead last on mercy.  I am not proud of this fact but it is a fact. I fought against this fact for years and tried desperately to be softer and squishier than the way God made me. It took me a while to realize that people like me add something necessary to the body of Christ. We keep the feelers from getting excessively feely and the mercy folks from handing out cheap grace like it was fun-size candy on Halloween. That being said, with God mercy always wins out over judgment (James 2:13) and if I want to be like Jesus I have to embrace the grace and mercy He came to give. 

Why Grace Alone is Not Enough-

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do~ Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV

If you are a Christian and reading this blog-post you can should rejoice because God has granted you the privilege of living in the age of Grace. This simply means Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection paid the penalty for your sins (Acts 13:38-40, Romans 6:23, 1stPeter 3:18).  You do not have to follow a bunch of rules, preform weird rituals or submit to the Old Testament law to get God to like and accept you (Galatians 2:19-21, Galatians 3:1-6, Galatians 5:6). If you have trusted in the finished work Jesus did on the cross and repented of your sins, when God looks at you He sees the righteousness, virtue and goodness of Jesus and that is more than enough for Him (Romans 10:10, 2ndTimothy 1:9). 

He totally digs you. Happy sigh. 

For the average Christian this is not exactly new news. Contemporary Christians have been inundated with the message that it is grace rather than works that save us from our sins and make us right with God. This is not in and of itself a bad message.  It is critical we remember that good works cannot save anyone from anything (Isaiah 64:6). During the Middle Ages the church lost sight of this vital truth and as a result the church (and the people in it) also lost sight of its purpose in this world. The spiritual and ethical chaos that resulted from this error is still being felt in our world today.

Sigh.

 That being said, humans tend to be creatures of weird extremes. We rarely do, think or believe anything in a halfhearted fashion. As a result, the current emphasis on grace has caused many Christians to view good works as an optional activity for Christians at best and as an affront to the grace of God at worst. Some Bible teachers and Pastors have inadvertently encouraged this flawed thinking by leading people to believe that salvation is an end rather than a beginning. Many Christians sincerely believe there is nothing left for us to do but glory in our salvation and wait for heaven once we have become Christians.  

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

God could not be clearer in His word: we were saved by grace but we were created for the express purpose of doing good works (Ephesians 2:9-10, Matthew 5:16, 1stTimothy 6:18, Hebrews 10:24). Those good works include (among other things) living righteously, building the church (body of Christ), providing for the physical needs of the poor, sharing truth, loving the lost, fighting for fairness in an unfair world and helping Christians and non-Christians who need help. Today I want to make a biblical case for good works. Not so that we can get saved but because we are saved. Christians should do good works because:

Good works reveal who we are- 

In Genesis chapter 24 Abraham sends his most trusted servant to find his son Isaac a wife. The instructions Abraham gave the man were insanely hazy and vague. Mostly, Abraham did not want Isaac’s wife to come from outside of his clan. The servant very wisely prayed that he would find a woman who voluntarily did good deeds (my words) for strangers. He prayed that he would find a woman who would offer a complete stranger water and be willing to water his camels as well (a time-sucking act of kindness that went above and beyond prevailing social expectations). Abraham’s servant understood that our behavior towards others (especially strangers) reveals our inner nature more effectively than words ever could (Matthew 12:35).  When Christians do good deeds for the right reasons, because we love God it shows the world that there is something different about us and they tend to find that difference intriguing, perplexing and appealing (Matthew 7:18).   

Good works remind us who we belong to and what we are all about- 

Anytime we choose to go above and beyond for someone our good deeds also serve as a reminder to us that we are not called to live for ourselves. Rather, we are called to live beyond ourselves for the glory of God and the good of others. 

Good works point people to a good God- 

Human beings are for the most part, motivated by selfishness, impure motives and greed. Because humans are self-serving and greedy good deeds that require personal sacrifice are a rare and noteworthy occurrence in our world. When Christians are open about being Christians AND they do good things for no other reason than God wants them to do good things. Those acts of righteousness inevitably point people to Jesus. 

Good works are a way to say thank you for a gift we could never earn-

It is simply a fact that no quantity of good deeds could ever make up for our innate sinfulness and pride. We needed Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could enjoy the benefits of salvation both now and in eternity. When we choose to do the good deeds God commands us to do (Deuteronomy 5:33, Matthew 25:31-40, Luke 6:27-36, Romans 12, 1stCorinthians 10:24, Galatians 2:10) it is a small way to tell God that we appreciate the sacrifice that was made on our behalf. 

Why Bitterness Feels Good-

I loathe my very life; therefore, I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul~ Job 10:1 NIV

 Bitterness is not a subject we discuss much in church. It should be, because bitterness is an ugly sin everyone struggles with at some point in their lives.

 This is because bitterness is a byproduct of living in a fallen world. All people are sinners (Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12-14). Sinners universally have a tough time seeing their own faults and issues. They also have a tough time seeing the effect their faults and issues have on those around them. Because most people, even most redeemed people are really just clueless bumblers. People hurt others, sometimes without even realizing they are doing it. There are evil people who hurt others intentionally simply because they like hurting people, but in my experience those people are fairly rare. Most folks just stumble around blindly, not realizing how much suffering they are generating with their actions.

Sigh

  I have done my time in the pit of bitterness. Thanks to God’s mercy I came out of it with my faith, sanity and love for humanity firmly intact. Through the process of getting free I learned a thing or two about this rather painful subject. Following are four things every Christian should understand about the sin of bitterness:  

 Bitterness feels awesome-

 Most people only become bitter over legitimate hurts or injustices (Luke 17:1). Only a very few excessively sensitive souls become really bitter over stuff that wasn’t a big deal in the first place.  As a result, when we wallow around in bitterness it feels AWESOME, at least at first. Alcohol and bitterness have some things in common. Alcohol is a slow-acting poison. As we drink the poison begins to work we feel euphoric and awesome at first. However, if we drink too much for too long our choice to indulge can end in sickness, liver failure, brain damage and sometimes even death. Bitterness acts on our spirits in much the same way alcohol acts on our bodies. Because bitterness is usually the result of a valid hurt, nursing feelings of bitterness is emotionally satisfying and it feels great at least in the beginning.  However, if we do not get a firm handle on our bitter feelings the choice to indulge them inevitably ends in the spiritual equivalent of acute alcohol poisoning or liver failure. Every analogy breaks down at some point and it is true of this one as well. The biggest difference between alcohol and bitterness is that a little bit of bitterness is never okay and there are no known benefits to bitterness. No one can indulge in a bitter spirit and walk away unscathed because bitterness is far more addictive and damaging than alcohol could ever be.   

 Prevention is the best medicine for bitterness-

 Hebrews 12:15 warns against allowing the sin of bitterness to take root in our lives. The text says: See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. The “see to it” wording of this verse tells us that the writer believed individuals have some personal responsibility when it comes to the sin of bitterness. There are times when circumstances that produce bitter roots appear out of nowhere and we have zero control over whether or not to allow those situations into our lives. There are also times when we simply cannot walk away from people or circumstances that have the potential to make us bitter. When that happens, our spiritual and moral responsibility is to deal with our feelings before God in a healthy way so that bitterness has no opportunity to take root in our lives.  That being said, there are also times in life when we willingly place ourselves in situations, or refuse to walk away from situations that we know from day one will be fertile ground for bitter roots.  Taking responsibility for ourselves in the area of bitterness means being cautious about which situations we allow ourselves to get into and which situations we choose to stay in (Proverbs 6:1-3).   

 Bitterness is a temptation before it is a sin-

 Bitterness is a choice (Ephesians 4:31). Like all choices, bitterness is not something we fall into like helpless chumps. We are tempted long before the sin overtakes us (1stCorinthians 10:13). Wise, mature Christians are emotionally vigilant, they pay attention to their feelings so that they can avoid getting caught-up in something sinful, like bitterness (1stPeter 5:8).

 It is possible to get free of bitterness-

 Getting free from the sin of bitterness begins with recognizing that wallowing around in bitterness is every bit as sinful as whatever situation caused us to become bitter in the first place. In other words, we must confess our own sin. Then we must forgive the person who sinned against us. A key component of forgiving others is trusting God to deal with the person who sinned against us.  Praying for the person who sinned against us can help us let go of the desire for revenge.  Forgiveness is never easy and is typically a process that takes time. To get free we must take our hurt and pain to God until we are free from the hurt, anger and bitterness.  

Five Ways We Made the Facts Feel Sad this Week

 

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free~ John 8:32 NIV

 It was a tough week to be a fact.

 During an interview with Anderson Cooper, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said something that implied she might be a-wee-bit intolerant towards certain facts:

 “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.”

 Later in the week Kirstjen Nielsen (Secretary of Homeland Security), presented some statistics (a fancy word for facts) concerning the number of migrants, drug smugglers and gang members crossing the Southern border in a given year, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi interrupted Ms. Nielson’s presentation to say:

  “I reject your facts”

 Hmm.  That’s all I have to say about that.

 Dems were not the only ones coldshouldering the facts this week. During an interview with Mike Wallace, Whitehouse Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders stated that accuracy regarding the number of terrorists captured at the Southern border did not matter so long as the overall numbers of terrorists captured in the country were accurately reported.  

 Sigh.

 If I were a fact I would be a bit miffed.

 As I considered the flagrant fact-shunning, I found myself thinking some rather scornful thoughts regarding worldly people and their lack of logic.  Then I had a weird and fairly awkward epiphany. I realized that Christians do the same kinds of things with a different set of facts. We sometimes disdain, disregard and disrespect facts or truths simply because we do not like them. Following are five things Christians say when we just don’t like certain facts.    

 I think that God just wants me to be happy –

 Folks typically whip this weary line out when they really, really, really, want to do something that the Bible explicitly prohibits (adultery, bitterness, homosexuality, divorce without biblical grounds, premarital sex, etc.). Like it or not, it is a fact that God forbids certain behaviors (Galatians 5:19-21, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:3-6, Revelation 22:12-16). That said, I do not believe God forbids things because He is indifferent to the feelings of people. God is not an uncaring monster who gets a kick out of seeing people living out their lives in abject misery. Truth-be-told God just cares more about our eternal wellbeing and holiness than our momentary happiness.  God sees the bigger picture and potential consequences we are incapable of seeing in our fallen, finite state. He knows what making a specific choice (like committing adultery or becoming bitter) will do to our souls, our families and our ability to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. God loves people and He knows that we are all just stupid enough to forgo our future health and spiritual wellbeing on the altar of pleasure and expediency. God loves people too much to simply let us be led by something as stupid (and subject to change) as feelings.  

 My God wouldn’t do that-

 People typically say this in response to being told that God judges sinners who refuse to repent of their sin. They might say “my God doesn’t judge” or “my God loves everyone”. The biggest and most basic problem with this particular line of reasoning is that it is firmly grounded in willful ignorance. There is only one God and He does love everyone. However, God makes it clear in His word that He will judge anyone who refuses to repent (John 5:28-29, 1stTimothy 2:5, Job 21:22, Revelation 6:9-11, Revelation 20:12-13).

 That’s not my conviction-

 Conviction is a firmly held belief concerning whether or not something is right or wrong. Christians should feel conviction (a sense of guilt) anytime they knowingly violate God’s standards. In recent years some have concluded that if they don’t feel conviction (guilt) over something then it’s not a sin. Their lack of guilt or conviction makes the thing okay. But, here’s the thing, one does not have to feel conviction or guilt about something for it to be wrong (Romans 1:28-32, Jeremiah 8:12). There are people in thisworld who do not feel an ounce of conviction about doing really terriblethings (murder, bigotry, infidelity, blasphemy, theft). Their lack of conviction does not make a sin any less sinful.  The Bible clearly states that the only time our feelings should dictate whether or not something is right or wrong is when the issue is not clearly a sin (grey area). If we feel guilty doing something (even if that thing is not clearly violating Scripture) then God does not want us to do that thing (1stCorinthians 8)

 I haven’t experienced that so I can’t say if it’s right or wrong-

 There are actually people who sincerely believe that one must experience something in order to judge whether or not something is sinful. This simply does not pass the logic test. If you carry this line of thinking out to its reasonable conclusion it means one cannot know if it’s wrong to kill someone until they have actually committed murder. Please. That’s just stupid.

 I reject that reality-

 Reality is a fact. Facts cannot be debated or rejected (sorry, Nancy). Reality is what it is. Only crazy people reject reality and they are crazy precisely because they choose to reject reality.  People who do not wish to be labeled as crazy should not reject reality.

  Please be courteous to the facts this week folks. Last week was a rough one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Out the Why of Christmas

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” ~ Luke 4:18-19 NIV

A note to my readers:

Okay, so, I am not a big fan of self-promotion.  To be perfectly honest, I loathe it with every fiber of my being. However, I do want to let you all know that I recently wrote a devotional based on the book of Colossians. It’s called Rooted: 29 days in the book of Colossians. It’s available on Amazon in a softcover for only $3.75. It would make a good stocking stuffer. If you have already purchased the book (and you don’t hate it) please consider writing a review. I would really appreciate it!

Rooted Book

Being a Christian and a blogger is tough at Christmastime. 

 At this point in history everyone knows that December is the month the early church chose to celebrate the advent (arrival) of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2). If one is both a Christian and a blogger (and I am both of those things) then the season of Christmas is legitimately a very big deal that warrants at least a mention in said blog.

However.

For whatever reason, Christmas in the Western world has become more of a cultural celebration than a spiritual celebration and that makes Christmas tough for me personally as a Christian writer. Do I write a syrupy-sweet post lauding the shallow but still Christian aspects of the season? Or, do I go the more prophetic route and demand in a cantankerous tone that everyone ditch the fun stuff and worship Jesus in spirit and truth sans the materialistic, godless razzle-dazzle? Or, do I simply pretend there’s no such thing as Christmas and continue on with business as usual?  

It’s my annual Christmas conundrum. 

The soul-searching/navel gazing began early this year when I was asked to speak at a Christmas event in early December. As I prepared for the event I did a lot of thinking about Christmas in general and why we celebrate Christmas in particular. Ultimately, I decided that Christians have (for the most part) lost sight of the “why” of Christmas. In the midst of the feverish gift-giving, cookie-baking and decorating many of us have forgotten that Jesus’ first coming was more than just an excuse to make merry. 

It was the biggest game-changer in the history of forever.

 The birth of Jesus paved the way for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection, made it possible for every human who has ever lived to to get free from the penalty of sin (eternity in hell), the fear of death, the prison of idolatry, and the spiritual oppression that began at the fall (Genesis 3). Furthermore, the values of compassion, charity, justice and equality that Jesus brought to earth caused humanity to do some collective soul-searching. As a result, human rights, women’s rights, poverty programs, egalitarianism and the whole concept of religious freedom eventually became things human beings take seriously enough to fight for.  

That is worth celebrating. 

However, too often at Christmastime we get so caught-up in the hullaballoo that surrounds Christmas that we lose our sense of wonder and astonishment at the beauty that lies at the heart of the Christmas story.  We lose something of infinite value anytime we cease to rejoice and wonder at the crazy-truth that the God of the universe willingly left the comfort and majesty of heaven simply so that He could give a bunch of mostly ungrateful, clueless sinners an opportunity to get right with Him. 

Keeping the why of Christmas in mind this time of year is no easy task and no one needs another to-do list this time of year. That said, there are three really basic things we can all do to keep our hearts in the right place at Christmastime:     

Free yourself from the weird bondage that surrounds Christmas-

 Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to earth was to free humanity from bondage (Romans 6:18, Galatians 5, Luke 4:18, John 8:32). Yet for some inexplicable reason every December millions of people (mostly women) celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior by freely putting themselves into bondage over a bunch of (mostly stupid) stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with God, Jesus, or why we celebrate Christmas. Those things include (but are not limited to) baking billions of cookies, writing newsletters, decorating, gift-giving and unnecessary people-pleasing. None of those things are sinful but neither should they be done out of obligation or in place of the things that help us and other people grow closer to Jesus.    

Read through the book of Luke before Christmas day- 

Weirdly enough, Jesus (the whole point of Christmas), can (and does) get lost in the celebration of Christmas. Reading the book of Luke is a powerful weapon against secularism and spiritual complacency at Christmas.   Luke’s passion for the person of Jesus shines in his writing. He uses words like awe, surprised, marvel, amazed, wondered and astonished almost excessively, sometimes two or three times in a single sentence. As you read through the book take the time to highlight those words. Pray that God will fill you with wonder and amazement as He empowers you to see His hand working in your life and in the lives of the people around you. This tiny act will help you to see Jesus in fresh new way this Christmas. I promise.

Be purposeful about being grateful- 

The materialistic focus of Christmas oftentimes keeps us from being grateful for the things we already have (and most of us have a lot). When we take the time to be thankful for what God has already given us our gratitude serves as a reminder that there is more to life than stuff and more to feeding our souls than getting stuff and we could all use a little bit more of that this season. 

How the Average Christian Fails to Love Like God Loves-

 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love- Ephesians 5:1 NIV

There is no subject more thoroughly discussed or hotly debated in the church today than the subject of love. Hardly a day goes by when I do not come across an article or blogpost encouraging and sometimes even shaming Christians into behaving in more loving ways.

Nonetheless, it could be argued that the Church is failing at this basic and fundamental task (Matthew 22:36-40). The comments section of articles pertaining to any hot-button issue (abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, immigration) reveal most non-Christians view Christians as angry, hard-hearted, insensitive meanies. 

Christins have a serious optics problem with this subject. 

This should bother us. It is unlikely that those inside church will convince those outside the church that God loves them if they do not  believe that we love them. Unless people believe God loves them it is likely they will reject God. Willfully rejecting God’s love does not end well for anyone (Matthew 25:46, Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 2:1-3, Revelation 20:11-15). 

Sigh.  

This optics problem we have came about as a result of some mistakes we made. Most were not a result of evil; just a sad combination of obliviousness, biblical ignorance and misplaced zeal (Romans 10:2).  There are five mistakes Christians make that the cause the world to see us as fundamentally unloving:  

We do not love each other-

In Church world there is a huge emphasis placed on Christians loving non-Christians. This is good. However, Christians are commanded first and foremost to love each other. Church is supposed to be a place where believers treat each other with the utmost love, grace, respect and patience (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:2, 1st Peter 3:8). Churches were meant to be safe spaces where baby Christians can grow and unsaved people can see the love, respect and care Christians have for one another. When unbelievers see a spirit of love and grace in church communities they want what they see. Sadly, many Christians are not always loving, patient or even courteous towards their brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, many Christians publicly criticize their churches and treat other Christians with open contempt.  This breaks the heart of God. God will not bless the Western Church with revival until His people repent of this serious sin.  

We lack patience-

1st Corinthians 13 was written to teach people how to love the way God loves. It is no accident Paul begins his discourse with the foundational truth that love is patient (1st Corinthians 13:4).  Authentic Christian love gives people room to grow and develop and does not demand that people mature on a preset timetable. It is critical we gently correct Christians who sin (2nd Timothy 3:16, 2nd Timothy 4:2). However, it is equally critical we temper our corrections with the patience, kindness and grace of God (1stThessalonians 5:14). 

Our corrections lack context- 

In my experience  Church people are good people who love God with all their heart, soul, and mind and strength (Matthew 22:37-28). However,  some church people are a bit overeager when it comes to getting and keeping others on the straight and narrow. Sometimes Christians forget correction is best done in the context of relationship and should NEVER be attempted on church visitors, strangers or in front of a group of other people. Period. It does not matter what the person is wearing or how many piercings or tattoos they have. The only truly loving and wise thing to do when someone shows up at our church is to celebrate the fact they are attempting to connect with God. Their appearance, even if it’s weird and/or inappropriate is irrelevant (Luke 15:15-31). 

We think tough love is always the right answer- 

Sometimes tough love and tough words are the answer. There are situations in life where people need to be told the truth in a straight-forward no-nonsense manner and tone (Ephesians 4:15). However, most of the time a kinder, gentler method is far more effective and should always be attempted before tough love is applied (Proverbs 15:1 Titus 3:1-3, Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:1-2). 

We lie- 

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of Christians in this world. The ones who say too much about the subject of sin and the ones who say nothing at all about the subject of sin.  Sadly, the ones who say nothing often feel justified in doing so because of the damage done by the ones who have said too much. Further complicating the situation is the fact that we have been conditioned by our society to believe that telling people the truth about their behavior is mean. That said, it is time for Christians to return to an understanding that it is fundamentally unloving to lead people to believe that they can continue to sin without consequences (Galatians 5:16-21).

  Love is key in leading people to God.

Therefore it is critical we get busy doing the work necessary to fix our optics problem where love is concerned. As individual Christians it is critical we pray daily for wisdom and not lean on our own understanding when it comes to the right and wrong way to love others.